In the Bible, the number forty seems to pop up whenever a meaningful gap of time exists between the beginning and end of an event. Rain pours out of the sky for forty days and nights during Noah’s flood. Peace reigns for forty years following Deborah’s unlikely victory over General Sisera’s forces. Moses holes up for forty days and nights on Mount Sinai as he writes the Ten Commandments.
What I did for forty years does not rank as a Biblically analogous event, but for an epoch of four decades, I was a loyal viewer of the daytime drama, “General Hospital.” From the ages of 12 to 52, I may not have been wandering in a desert, but I religiously followed the exploits of Luke, Laura, Lucky, and Lulu Spencer, Scotty Baldwin, Robin Scorpio, and all of the residents of fictional Port Charles, New York. That is, until this past December, when a team of rating-obsessed, homicidal writers decided to kill off my favorite character, Kiki Jerome.
After completing six years of graduate school, I’m not exactly the type of person you’d peg as having a soft spot for a trite soap opera. The bookshelves in my house sag from the weight of medieval Jewish commentaries in tomes of timeless philosophical and human wisdom. Yet, I know far too much about the Cassadine family tree to pretend that those characters are not somehow ingrained in my consciousness and my heart as well.
My connection to “General Hospital” began innocently enough in the final years of the 1970s. After a day navigating the emotional storms of junior high school, I craved a few minutes of mindless escapism. In the Me Generation of the 1970s when other friends were left to their own devices by free-spirited parents, my mom excised sugar cereals from grocery lists and forbade the purchase of Candies platform mules. Most horrifying of all, she would not permit the children in our family to watch television on school days unless we were viewing the news, public television, or “The Paper Chase,” a drama about sleep-deprived Harvard law students. There was, however, one loophole attached to this anti-television ban. Any of the four siblings could watch television, as long as it was accompanied by simultaneous folding of the family’s never-ending baskets of clean laundry. As the only sibling who took my mom up on this irresistible offer, I began my independent study project on the fine art of sock and shirt folding meshed with an analysis of the moral development of characters on “General Hospital.”
Rather than mock my attachment to the shenanigans of the Quartermaines or the complex emotional life of Mafia boss, Sonny Corinthos, my mother admitted that even serial dramas could spark an imagination. Television free at summer camp, I looked forward to my mom’s long letters with paper clipped soap opera updates carefully cut out from the Virginian Pilot television section. Her thoughtful care packages were certainly an act of love, although now I question if maybe she was also trying to make sure that I kept up the afternoon laundry folding once school began again.
During college and graduate school, I tuned in to GH every few months, just to keep up with the story arcs. Iconic couples detached and reunited every few years, so in many ways, only the size of the actresses’ shoulder pads really changed over the decades. In the 21st century, my son showed me how to operate the DVR in our house, and I started to record “General Hospital,” efficiently zipping through commercials and extraneous storylines. On more than one plot-free Monday, I have been able to fast-forward through recordings in less than five minutes flat, pausing the remote only for a brief visit with my favorite characters.
I have been able to keep this lowbrow little secret to myself until now, when Kiki’s murder has spurred me to go public. The truth is, I have arrived at a season in my growth as a fifty-two-year-old person in which I cannot bear to watch the demise of even a fictional young person. I have reached my threshold for premature death.
Beautiful Lauren Katherine (Kiki) Jerome was an outspoken medical student who battled post-traumatic stress disorder and sexual harassment. A young woman finally on the path to finding love and purpose, Kiki managed to survive being shot by mobsters, had shared no fewer than two boyfriends with her emotionally complicated mother, and only recently had discovered the true identity of her biological father. On a soap opera filled with less than sharp characters (the police force in Port Charles, New York could not solve a crossword puzzle, much less a crime), Kiki was downright smart. A Vanderbilt graduate (did the murderer even grasp how difficult it is to get into Vandy from New York City these days), she exuded compassion and class. She was not fooled when her mother tried to trick her into thinking her boyfriend had cheated on her with her dissembling faux half-sister. Kiki even fostered her own female friendships, a unicorn on daytime dramas in which women frequently vie against one another to gain the affection of romantic interests.
Then one afternoon, while skimming through a previously broadcast episode featuring a malevolent identity-swapping twin, it happened. A scheming serial killer stabbed Kiki and killed her. I sat on the couch and sobbed.
Yes, I know GH is fictional. I know how to suspend disbelief. It’s a soap opera about a hospital, after all, and I don’t recall ever hearing about even one Jewish medical professional on staff. I understand and am relieved that Hayley Erin, the talented actor who portrays Kiki, is alive and well. Yet, my private enjoyment from following “General Hospital” has been extinguished.
When I was younger, characters could come and go on this soap opera willy-nilly, and I would not even wince. If they got blown up in a mysterious car crash or building fire, all the better. Explosions meant that favorite characters could return years after waking up in a Russian hospital following plastic surgery (typically bearing the face and body of another actor). Alas, Kiki’s body was recovered. She was gone for good.
Couldn’t the writers have shipped Kiki off to a faraway continent to assist with malaria prevention? Why didn’t they send her off to Ireland, a curiously popular destination for characters portrayed by actors on parental leave or pursuing prime time television opportunities? Nope. They killed off Kiki, and I turned off “General Hospital.”
In my real life forty years that I’ve been watching “General Hospital,” too many innocent young people have had their lives snuffed out in school shootings and gang violence. No longer a young person, I have experienced personal losses, as well. A dear friend (who watched our toddler daughter in the middle of the night when my husband and I rushed to the hospital to deliver our son) succumbed to complications from a devastating autoimmune disease. A college sweetheart died in an accident. An entire family from our community was snuffed out in a small plane crash. A former student of mine passed away just after graduating from college.
My heart can’t take one more unnecessary loss, even fictional, now that I’ve reached this half-century mark. And I’m sorry, “General Hospital,” but I’m deleting you. I may not have figured out how to remove the series from being automatically recorded, but you’re dead to me. You’ll have to entertain and frustrate some other loyal viewer. I’ll hold on to the real-life people I love a bit more tightly. After all, I don’t live in Port Charles, New York, and the people I know who die never come back to life. Laura Spencer and Kiki Jerome, I’ll miss you the most when I’m folding my children’s laundry. In my imagination, you’ll live happily ever after for at least another forty years.
Sharon Forman is a reform rabbi and educator who lives in Westchester, New York with her husband, three children, and rambunctious dog. She is the author of The Baseball Haggadah: A Festival of Freedom and Springtime in 15 Innings as well as numerous personal essays on the topic of parenthood and Judaism.